Charming the Arab and Muslim World

My life was going through transition. My professional home for decades, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, was going through a process of getting shut down by the government. The process would last from 2014 to 2017.

I started to doubt my mission as someone who was spreading what I believed to be the real story of Israeli news to the world through the microphone at  Kol Yisrael-English radio, where I had started to work in 1981.

My doubt was due to both the government voices which dismissed our importance, and also the growing feeling which I sensed from friends and others who I encountered in my daily life that they were just tired of the news.

They wanted to hear positive things. They were sick of the sleaze.

So I started to look for the good, for the real news that was provided by regular people on my bus rides into work, on the streets, at market places, synagogues, or even bars.

This was the news of daily life, not of world leaders supposedly discussing the future of our planet, but the simple people who were making the world go round with their good deeds.

It dealt with relations between religious and secular Jews, between Jews and Arabs, younger people helping seniors across the street, or even a storeowner offering a job to an individual sitting on the ground asking for charity.

I would post on social media, mostly Facebook, though at times it became viral in WhatsApp groups, on email lists, and even in old-fashioned oral discussions at Shabbat tables and other social gatherings.

My stories became so well-known that as Israel recently started to move dramatically toward establishing formal ties with additional Arab states, I was asked by Israeli government representatives to tell my stories in online contacts with officials from those countries.

In April, for example, I spoke to a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates. I have also conducted story-telling sessions with officials from Arab and Muslim states with which Israel still does not maintain open relations.

I call it my own version of a charm offensive.

During my news reporting career, which I still have not abandoned, I have visited such countries as Jordan, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

Back in 1991, I reported from the Middle East peace conference in Madrid.

Now, however, I am holding contacts that evolve not around the policies of the decision-makers but the people who make up the character of our country.

I find it especially fascinating that a few Muslim officials seemed to fall in love with stories dealing with the Jewish religion.

Who would have thought that one such diplomat would have become choked up when I told him a story about a Mincha minyan?

The tale, which I had posted in July on Facebook, dealt with a man forming a street minyan to say Kaddish for a yahrzeit by getting the attention of a variety of people including a driving instructor, a guy taking out the garbage in front of his house, and a couple of people at a nearby café which did not have a kashrut certificate.

The Muslim diplomat understood every non-English word I used in that story, explaining each concept to me to prove that he really did comprehend what I was talking about.

He then said: “If Israelis can be more united among themselves despite their differences, they will send an important message to my people.” I look forward to writing a new article one day when I can make public the country which this diplomat represents.

In my conversation with the UAE official in April, I told the story of Rafi the policeman.

The story evolved around my drive to Jerusalem on a Friday in March to bring food supplies to my mother even as a lockdown was descending upon Israel due to COVID-19. On the way home, I got pulled over by police.

Policeman: “Is everything okay? Do you have an emergency or something that makes it urgent for you to drive?”

Me: “I was bringing food to my elderly mother for Shabbat and the coming days.”

Rafi then reached into the police car and took out a bouquet of flowers.

He: “Take. I bought some bouquets of flowers before starting my shift to give to the people I stop who have heartwarming stories of why they’re driving.”

Me: “What a shame! I already brought the food. I’m on my way home.”

He: “OK, so listen to me. Not while you’re driving – you hear me? Not while you’re driving, but when you get home, you call your mom and tell her that Rafi wishes her good health and Shabbat Shalom.”

The Emirati diplomat listened patiently to my story. When I finished, he said: “David, I would say that I am amazed, but I’ve already heard that story. Your stories are getting around. You and people like Rafi are doing Israel a great service.”

About the Author
Made aliyah in 1981 from New York. 1981-2017 - Kol Yisrael English News. 2017-2018- Kan - English Radio. Anchor/producer/editor, etc.
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